Annyeong Haseyo! ....................................................................... 5
Depart! .......................................................................................... 6
First Impression............................................................................ 8
Gyeongju vs Kyoto ....................................................................... 9
Daereungwon / Tumuli Park ....................................................... 10
Temple Stay at Golgulsa ............................................................. 13
World Culture Expo Park ........................................................... 30
Silla Millennium Park .................................................................. 35
Bulguksa ...................................................................................... 41
Seokguram ................................................................................. 44
Yangdong Folk Village ............................................................... 47
National Museum ....................................................................... 50
Cheomseongdae Observatory .................................................. 54
Local Foods................................................................................. 55
Donggung Palace and Anapji Pond ........................................... 57
Namsan Mountain...................................................................... 58
Poseokjeong ................................................................................ 61
Najeong Well .............................................................................. 62
Bunhwangsa ............................................................................... 64
Hwangnyongsa .......................................................................... 66
Back to Seoul .............................................................................. 69
Recommendation ...................................................................... 70
Go to Gyeongju from Seoul
Arrive in Gyeongju
Daereungwon / Tumuli Park
Temple Stay 1 Night at Golgulsa
Checkout from Golgulsa
World Culture Expo Park
Silla Millennium Park
Check into Nahbi Guesthouse
Yangdong Folk Village
Donggung Palace and Wolji Pond
Back to Seoul
With a little preparation, today I was off to Gyeongju by myself for 4
days carrying 1 backpack only. At that time I was staying in Seoul,
South Korea. Many people asked me, “Where is Gyeongju? What to
see there?” Maybe it is not as popular as Busan or Jeju, but if you
love cultural places like me then you should really visit this city.
Gyeongju in the old days was named Seorabeol, a capital city of Silla
Kingdom. Silla was one of the Three Kingdoms which ruled Korea
Peninsula (both North and South) in 57 BC – 935 AD, together with
Goguryeo and Baekje. Later Silla conquered the other 2 kingdoms to
become Unified Silla.
Now we can see ruins, tombs, temples of Silla Kingdom around
modern Gyeongju city. This trip is a cultural heritage visit to Silla
There were 3 ways to go to Gyeongju from Seoul by public
Bus from Express Bus Terminal (Exit 1 of Subway Line 3 Express
Bus Terminal Station) or Dongseoul Bus Terminal (Exit 2 of
Subway Line 2 Gangbyeon Station) to Gyeongju Bus Terminal.
Duration: around 4 hours. Frequency: every 30-40 minutes. Price:
₩19500 – 29000. Bus ticket fare depends on the bus condition.
From Seoul to Gyeongju I got a luxury bus with 3 seats/row, new
condition and more space, which cost me ₩29,000. On my way
back from Gyeongju to Seoul, I got a ₩19,500 bus with 4 seats
Train Express (KTX) from Seoul Station (Exit 1 of Subway Line 1
and 4 Seoul Station) to Sin-gyeongju Station. Duration: around 2
hours. Price: ₩47000. Sin-gyeongju Station is not the same with
Gyeongju Station! They are quite far from each other.
Commuter/normal train from Seoul Station to Gyeongju Station.
Duration: around 5 hours. Price: around ₩20000.
I chose the first option, because it was cheaper than the second
option, but faster than the third one. I departed from Express Bus
Terminal, because it’s closer to my place. See below Seoul Subway
map: 21 minutes 6 stations vs 31 minutes 14 stations.
D = Departure
T = Transit
A = Arrival
This was the bus I took, quite fancy, right? I departed Seoul at 8:10 in
the morning (on time!) and arrived in Gyeongju around 12 at noon.
Soon when the bus arrived in Gyeongju toll gate, we were welcomed
by a nice old Korean style gate. Apparently every corner of the city
was designed with old stuff. Bus stops were shaped like Hanok
(Korean Traditional House). Temples, tombs, stupas/pagodas,
Buddha statues were seen everywhere. Every corner of the city had a
story. I was about to die of excitement. Gyeongju city did really have
one unique character and I fell in love with this city directly.
A Billboard in the city: Gyeongju, the ancient millennial capital of Silla
Gyeongju vs Kyoto
Arrived in Gyeongju Express Bus Terminal, first thing to do was
entering Tourist Information Center (TIC), since it’s located just
beside bus terminal. I don't know why, it's already a habit to visit TIC
before starting the journey even though I already noted and knew
where and how to go to places. There's always something to ask and
something new to discover in Tourist Information Center.
Like this time, when I entered TIC, which was located just beside bus
terminal, a friendly old guy inside looked at me and directly talked to
me, even before the staff greeted me. "Indonesian?" Whoa, how does
he know? I hadn’t spoken anything yet.
He was a Japanese traveler who lived in Indonesia sometimes ago for
few years, so perhaps he was familiar with faces like mine. He said he
wrote for Lonely Planet before, and had traveled to many places
around the world. From the way he talked, I could tell that he was
Then we talked about how different Japan and Korea in terms of
tourism sites. By chance, I had just been to Japan 2 weeks before my
trip to Gyeongju, so I knew exactly what he was trying to say. This
Gyeongju city of Korea is like Kyoto in Japan, full of historical and
cultural things. Kyoto has many beautiful temples and gardens, but it
is really commercial. There is no place without entrance fee. While in
Gyeongju, we could find some free good places to visit, for example
(the ones that the man recommended to me): National Museum and
Yangdong Folk Village. I directly noted them in my “To Visit List”.
Daereungwon / Tumuli Park
My first stop in the city was Daereungwon, because it is the closest
tourist spot to Gyeongju Express Bus Terminal, just 10 minutes
Daereungwon, or also called Tumuli Park, is a beautiful park full of
hills. They are not normal hills; they are tombs of Kings, Queens and
other members of royal family. With ₩1500 ticket, I got inside this
complex with 23 magnificent tombs!
The most famous tomb inside Daereungwon is Cheonmachong,
means Heavenly Horse Tomb. The name comes from the horse
painting discovered during the tomb’s excavation. We could go
inside this tomb and see the coffin, materials and treasures buried in
this tomb, such as gold crown and gold girdle, both with jade
comma-shaped beads (Gogok) which was the style of Silla Kingdom.
Gold crown found means the tomb was belonged to a King.
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The other famous tomb in this complex was Hwangnam Daechong,
which contained of 2 tombs: a King buried in the South Mound and
his Queen buried under the North Mound.
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Other than seeing the tombs, you can just walk around enjoying this
beautiful park. It was all green during summer. I wonder how it
would be like in other seasons.
I ate my packed lunch Tuna Kimbab here which I brought from Seoul,
before heading to the next place. Kimbab is a Korean dish made of
steamed white rice wrapped by seaweed and filled up with various
ingredients like cucumber, carrot, radish, egg, tuna, beef and fish
cake. It is often eaten during picnic, traveling and outdoor events,
because it is really practical, easy, fast, convenient and quite stuffed.
Most bus terminals in Korea have a food stall selling Kimbab.
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Temple Stay at Golgulsa
When I searched about Gyeongju in internet before I went there, I
found many articles suggesting Temple Stay in Golgulsa Temple in
Gyeongju. Temple Stay is a program of staying at least 1 night in a
Buddhist temple. The purpose of Temple Stay is not only to learn and
practice Buddhism, but also to have cultural experience and to find
inner peace. I had been interested to try Temple Stay in Korea for
that last reason. So, Temple Stay in Golgulsa, why not?
I called Golgulsa Temple the day before asking for reservation. Ideally
we should reserve the place at least 2 days before, but it was a
sudden decision, and luckily there were many free spots, so no
problem at all.
The appointment was to arrive there before 3pm. After sightseeing
for a while in Daereungwon, I walked back to around Gyeongju
Express Bus Terminal. Based on the information in the internet, and
the direction from TIC staff, I took bus number 100 from the bus stop
across the street from Express Bus Terminal. I paid ₩2000 in cash,
because that was what they said in the internet, and the bus driver
seemed not complaining about it, so I took my seat.
After about 40 minutes ride, with beautiful scenery of mountains and
rivers (no wonder Silla chose this place as their capital city!), I sensed
that my stop would reach soon, so I got up and told the driver about
my destination: Golgulsa.
The nearest bus stop to Golgulsa was named Andong Samgeori
(Andong Intersection). So either you listen carefully the
announcement in the bus, or just tell the driver about your
destination easily like what I did. It was the nearest stop, but not
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really near the temple. I had to walk, under the hot summer sun, for
about 1 km. There were signs of Golgulsa along the path walks, so I
just needed to follow them. Along the street, there were many
industrial factories that were not really nice to see. I was praying that
the temple was not located near any of these factories. If it was, then
my imagination about a peaceful Temple Stay was ruined.
What, another 3km?! No, another temple called Girimsa was another
3km, but Golgulsa was here onto the left. Apparently there was free
performance of Sunmudo twice daily in Golgulsa at 11 AM and 3 PM.
Just about the time! Wait, perhaps they asked me to come before 3
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PM to watch this performance also. Golgulsa was indeed famous for
its Martial Arts called Sunmudo. Many people came to this temple to
After filling the form, paying ₩50,000,
and completing the administrative
stuff, I was then given a room key,
temple uniform, nametag and a
guidebook. The normal room was for
2 people. When the temple was
packed, we should share it with other
participant. But this time I got the
room for myself. Not sure I should be
excited or scared sleeping alone here.
I read the guidebook and my agenda
during this 1 Night Temple Stay would
be like this:
15:00: Sunmudo Demonstration
18:40: Orientation on Buddhist chanting and meditation
19:00: Evening Chanting
19:30: Sunmudo Training (60 mins)
22:00: Lights out
04:00: Wake up
04:30: Morning Chanting
05:00: Sitting and Walking Meditation (30 minutes each)
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08:30: Sunmudo Training (90 mins)
11:00: Sunmudo Demonstration
After changing my clothes to temple uniform, which was one of the
guidelines there, I then went to the main hall where they had
Sunmudo performance. Sunmudo/Seonmudo (
) is a Korean
Buddhist martial art which practices Zen as a way of dynamic
meditation. The goal of this practice is harmonization of mind and
body united with breathing. It originates from ancient Silla Kingdom
when Monks were protecting and retreating troops and soldiers. This
martial art was neglected in 19th century. But today Sunmudo has
been popularized again, with Golgulsa as the center place to practice
Sunmudo in Korea. Therefore, this makes the Temple Stay in Golgulsa
unique from other temples.
Apparently not so many people watching the performance at that
time, only 3 people: me and 2 other Temple Stay participants. The
performers were… foreigner couple, wow! They were Theo and Sara
from France. They had been practiced Sunmudo and lived in Golgulsa
for a year. Not really inside Golgulsa complex, but they were given an
accommodation in the neighborhood across the river, just walking
distance from Golgulsa. They were actually paid for this: learning,
teaching and performing Sunmudo to public. They really enjoyed it.
They said morning performance was usually more crowded with
Sunmudo movements are full with jumping, flying and high kicks, and
some acrobatic shows, which in the old days was used for fighting.
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Sara was performing Sunmudo
Look at the view of mountains and trees from up here! Golgulsa was
located on natural Hamwol Mountain, therefore walking from one
building to another building could take a long hike (and breath
sometimes). The guesthouse building was located behind
administration building, the first building seen from the front gate.
While the main hall where Sunmudo performance held in was located
up the hill; the furthest building in this complex. Several other
buildings in this temple complex were: dining hall, dormitory, school
and training hall. Dormitory building was used for participants who
take long temple stay like 1 month, while the guesthouse building
where I was staying was for participants who take shorter term like 12 days.
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There were about 1 hour left from dinner time, I then walked and just
sat around the main building. Because this area was located on the
most top of the complex, we could see a lot of things from here;
such a perfect place for meditation.
The main hall
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The main hall again from other view
"The road to a mountain always leads to the temple;
The road to the temple eventually merges with the road to nature.
Leave all worldly sufferings behind,
Let nature breathe into you.
Reflect on yourself;
It is time for meditation and moderation.
It is a healing process invoked by seeing yourself, bared in the midst of
nature and made aware to every passing moment."
(Quote from Korea Temple Stay Program)
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Golgulsa means rock cave
temple. In this temple,
there are 12 caves carved
into the mountain with
narrow and steep cliffs.
On top of it all, about 4
meters high, a Giant
Buddha was seated and
carved into the rock. The
lower part of the seated
Buddha had weathered
away, perhaps due to
being exposed to the
wind and rain for
thousands years, but the
upper part was still in
good condition. A glass
rooftop was created above the rock face to prevent any more
According to the legend, around 9th century during Silla Kingdom, a
Buddhist monk from India came to this area and settled here. He
found this area was suitable to build a cave temple like in his
hometown. This is the only cave temple in Korea, while other
countries, like China and India, have many.
Another cultural asset in this temple is Oryuntap. It is a common five
rings Buddhist pagoda which represents five elements in the world.
The cube shape in the bottom represents the Earth. The sphere
shape above it is the Water. The third shape was pyramid represents
the Fire. The fourth one was in half moon shape represents the Air,
and the top was a gem/jewel shape represents the Space or Void.
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Avalokitesvara Cave, one of 12 caves carved into the rock cliff
At 05.30pm, a gong buzzed as the sign of dinner time, yay! I went to
the dining hall and started to queue for the foods. Since it’s a
Buddhist temple, all foods were vegetation. We could take the foods
as much as we want, but there was one temple rule stated we need
to finish them all or else we had to clean all the dishes. Maybe
cleaning the dishes is nothing, but not the humiliation. So I carefully
took my foods and finished them all. There were about 20 people
having dinner, 5 of them were foreigners. These were all people
staying in the temple, either 1 year, 1 month, 2 nights or only 1 night
After having dinner, I followed the crowd to the training hall where
they held evening Buddhist chanting and Sunmudo training.
Suddenly more people joined, mostly teenagers. These teenagers
were from the neighborhood, not staying inside the temple, but
visited the temple for Sunmudo training regularly.
First 30 minutes was Buddhist chant. Each of us was given a book
filled with chanting scripts which some of them had the
Romanization part for Foreigners like me. After that, Sunmudo
training was started. I think this evening training was basic and no
different than any other work-out session. We didn’t learn any
Sunmudo kicks or flies. There was warming up session in the
beginning (still inside the hall), then running to uphill where the main
hall was located. As you could see from the pictures of main hall
above, it was surrounded by a lot of stairs. We were told to climb the
stairs by crawling on hands and tiptoes. Even worse, the master then
told us to crawl and climb backward. I soon got dizzy and gave up.
After this evening sport around 9pm, we called it a night and were
back to our room. I took a shower and soon fell asleep even before
the nights off at 10pm. I already set my alarm for 3.45AM. There was
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another temple rule saying that we should wake up at 4AM and go to
main hall for Morning Chanting. If someone missed this or came late,
he/she should bow to Buddha for 3000 times and would not be
allowed to have breakfast. Whoa, better not be late!
The next day, I successfully woke up before 4AM and got ready. Tock,
tock, tock… a sound of mallet hit a wooden ball heard from afar as a
sign of wake up time. I wonder if I could wake up to that soft sound
only without my mobile phone alarm. I went out from my room and
rushed uphill to the main hall in a complete darkness with big scary
trees surrounding me alone. I did not hear any people walking in
front of me, but soon I heard some people walking and chatting far
behind me. I then slowed my walks so I could be walking near them.
Climbing up this path in the darkness of 4AM is scary
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During the walks, I was thinking how I was easy to get up in this early
morning to do morning chanting. Was it because the excitement of
this new experience? Was it because I was the outsider who felt
guilty and not respect them if I came late? Was it because I was
scared with the punishment? In my own religion, I also had an early
morning pray (Sholat Subuh), but I often woke up late and missed it.
This really made me reflect my habit to respect my own belief like I
respect other religions. I hoped from that day I could wake up early
more often and did my morning pray (instead of chanting) excitedly.
In the main hall, some monks already started the preparation for this
morning chanting. Like yesterday chanting, I was also given the script
book in English. We sat on the cushioned floor and started chanting
with a beautiful rhythm accompanying by the tock tock wooden
sound. After chanting, we had sitting meditation. I thought this was
almost the same with praying in my religion. During praying we
should be focused and not thinking elsewhere.
I felt peaceful in the beginning, but after few minutes my feet started
to cramp. I moved my hips to sit on one foot to another, not being
used to sit in that position for long time. My stomach was also
started to sing, made me not focus on my meditation. At that time, I
wished it was finished soon because of the embarrassment caused
by my loud hungry stomach haha.
After that, we had walking meditation. I like this one. Outside the
main hall, when the sun was rising, we lined up about 2 meters from
each other. We then started walking down slowly. The morning air
and breeze were really refreshing.
The gong sounded as a sign of breakfast time. This time I was so
hungry and ended up taking a lot of foods without consciousness. I
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thought I could finish them all, but no. Many people already finished
and went out of dining hall, but I was still struggling with my foods.
Fortunately there was a Korean girl besides me who was aware of my
problem. She offered to eat some foods on my plate. Even though
she could not eat much, but it was really helping. I hope I would
never take too much and waste foods anymore.
From dining hall, we gathered in Training Hall for Sunmudo training.
This time it got less people because the neighborhood teenagers did
not join. The masters suddenly decided to have the training outside,
yay! We all could fit in one 8-seated car. They drove us to a nearby
beach called Bonggil beach which turned out to be the home of King
Munmu’s Underwater Tomb (
King Munmu is the 30th ruler of Silla Kingdom who unified the three
kingdoms (Silla, Goguryeo and Baekje). He ordered to be buried in
the East Sea after his death so that he would become a dragon and
protect Silla from Japanese intruders. The tomb is formed as a rocky
island, not far from the land. It’s said that the remains of King
Munmu’s cremated body are buried under this rock.
King Munmu’s Underwater Tomb
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Our Instructor Theo
With this amazing view, we practiced Sunmudo that morning:
jogging barefoot on the pebbled beach (aw!) and learning some
Sunmudo movements and kicks (finally!). In the end, most of us
neglected the training and just walked around enjoying the beach. It
was summer but trust me, the sea water was very cold!
Me and other participants of Temple Stay
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Then we went
back to the
temple, and had
tea time with
master. In this
in one small
room facing the
made hot green
tea in a big bowl,
pour the tea to
several tea cups,
and pass them
to all of us.
the tea, he
Buddha, Sunmudo, and many other things, mostly in Korean but
sometimes in good English. I remember he said that one night is not
enough to experience the temple culture. He said that in general to
all of us but I knew he specifically talked to me, because I was the
only one in that audience who joined the temple stay for one night
It was almost 11AM, some people started preparation for Sunmudo
performance, and the rest were scattered around. It was a free time
anyway. I saw few buses and tourists were around the temple at that
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time, perhaps to watch the performance. Yesterday afternoon
performance that I watched was too simple, maybe because of lack
of audience. This time it should be better and nicer.
I and a Korean teenage girl walked up together to main hall slowly,
planning to watch the performance also. But on the way up, we met
an old lady, perhaps from the neighborhood, selling some kind of
berry fruits. It looked delicious and not so expensive, so we bought 2
packs of them. We then decided to skip the performance, and sat on
a garden between dining hall and dormitory while talking and eating
these fruits. The dormitory was used by people who are staying
inside the temple for quite long time, such as this Korean student I
befriended who was staying here during her school summer break.
While for guests like me who was staying only few days stayed in the
guesthouse in the front part of this temple complex, near
administrative office and main gate.
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The girl went to her room for a moment to take her diary and
showed it to me. What, showing me her secret diary?! Apparently she
had been practicing English, and written down her daily experience in
this temple using English. She asked me to review her written English
in that diary. Of course I did it with pleasure. I read it and found the
stories inside was not that secret. Even with few mistakes, I could
understand the list of activities she did in this temple and the result
she hoped to get by doing this Temple Stay.
Her family sometimes visited her on the weekend. She was allowed
to go outside the temple one day a week during weekend, and she
used it for eating meats haha. It was ok as long the meats were not
brought inside temple.
At 12PM, the gong signed of lunch time sounded. We went inside
dining hall to have lunch. This time I made sure I did not take too
much food like in the morning. This was also my last temple meal,
because after lunch I would check-out.
I walked down to my room to take shower and packed my things. I
returned the uniforms and key in the administration office, and
walked out of the temple complex back to Gyeongju city. Goodbye,
Golgulsa! Thank you for this first Temple Stay experience. I looked
forward for another Temple Stay in other temples in other seasons in
Korea. Next time I want to meditate and think about life peacefully in
a temple during cold winter with white snowy scenery mountains of
Korea, or during romantic fall season with colorful trees view. That
would be nice.
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World Culture Expo Park
From Golgulsa back to Gyeongju city, I took the same bus like
yesterday: number 100. Yesterday on the way to Golgulsa, I saw this
bus passed by some tourist places like Gyeongju World Culture Expo
Park, Silla Millenium Park and Gyeongju World Resort’s Amusement
Park located near each other. I was a little bit interested in the
Amusement Park, just because my favorite actor Lee Seung Gi once
filmed there for his newest drama at that time (The King 2 Hearts)
haha, but it would be too boring to take the rides alone by myself,
right? So I skipped this, and decided to visit World Culture Expo Park
and Silla Millenium. The bus fare differs based on the distance.
Because it was shorter than yesterday journey, I paid ₩1500 for bus
Some tourist attractions near Bomun Lake
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Gyeongju World Culture Expo Park is an exhibition area that features
cultural heritage of Silla Dynasty, historic relics of the world's ancient,
folktales from around the world and many more cultural and
educational programs. The entrance ticket costs ₩7000, but some
attractions inside the park may need additional tickets.
Entering through the main gate, we could see country flags lined up
from around the world, their friendly way of welcoming foreign
tourists to this park. That leads us to the main walk toward an
enormous building shaped like the Nine-story Wooden Pagoda of
Hwangnyongsa Temple (page 66). Wait, it’s not the building that
shaped like Hwangnyongsa, but the center void part. Stunning, right?
This 82-meter building is called Gyeongju Tower, the symbol of
Gyeongju World Culture Expo. The glass surface of the tower depicts
the image of Roman Glass found within the Silla Royal Tombs, and
implies the internationally-acclaimed value of the Silla culture
exchanged with Rome at the time.
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This stunning building is an interactive museum about Silla culture
and dynasty, where we could see the traditional clothes and
accessories of Silla especially those worn by royal family, the mockup
of Seorabeol city map, the explanation of each famous relic sites in
Gyeongju such as Hwangnyongsa, Seokguram (page 44) and
Bulguksa (page 41). I personally like the women dress and hairstyle in
Silla time more than current Korean Hanbok (traditional Korean
dress), it looks more complicated but so elegant and beautiful.
The tower is basically the center part of this park. From the tower, I
went to the front part which I skipped this in the beginning maybe
because too mesmerized by the tower. In the front part, there are
some dioramas about the love story between Princess Seonhwa of
and a Hwarang hero named Giparang. The Hwarang (Flower Boys) is
an elite group of male youth in Silla where members gathered for all
aspects of study, originally for arts, martials, and culture. There was
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also a children section with cartoon statues like the famous Korean
Beautiful mountainous Gyeongju seen from Gyeongju Tower
Love Story between Princess Seonhwa and Giparang
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Then I walked to the back part of this park, passing by the Tower
again. On the right side there is a big theater usually showing the
famous cultural show, like Miso: a traditional musical dance
drama/love story chronicling the four seasons of Korea. I’d really love
to watch that show, so I checked the upcoming schedule for that day.
The next show would start at 6pm; I did not think I could make it
since I still had to visit Silla Millenium Park after this. Miso show is
showing also in Seoul, so I might be able to watch it later in Seoul
(but apparently not). On to the back side of the tower, first I saw a
Dinosaur park, where many kinds of Dinosaurs statues were showing;
Then, there is TV Drama “Athena” Location Set. I came inside the
building to find out about the drama, and to chill out a little bit in a
cold room. This action thriller drama was aired in SBS in 2010, and
telling a story about a counter-terrorism agency called National antiTerror Service (NTS) to protect nuclear energy technology. Sounds
complicated. So this building is apparently the NTS office setting for
the drama. The last part of this Expo that I saw was a Chinese Zodiac
Park. There are 12 animal statues wearing Chinese cloth standing in
circle representing the 12 Chinese Zodiacs.
Twelve Chinese Zodiacs
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Silla Millennium Park
My next destination was the film shooting location of Queen
Seondeok, a famous Sageuk (historical Korean drama) about the first
female ruler of Shilla Kingdom. This place has been reconstructed
and opened to public as amusement park to introduce Shilla culture.
This park offers performances and workshops related to Shilla, such
as Hwarang Show, craft and puppet workshop, and costume lending
where we have a chance to wear those beautiful layered traditional
clothes of Shilla people.
Unfortunately most of the performances and workshops already
closed when I entered the park in that afternoon around 4.30pm; it’s
only left 2 hours to explore the park before closing time. The
entrance fee after 4pm was only ₩9000, while the ticket fee for the
whole day was ₩18,000.
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Set of Queen Seondeok Drama
The set for Queen Seondoek drama at Silla Millennium Park included
Silla Royal Palace, Hwarang Mountain Stronghold and Drilling Hall
(where Hwarang have practice), and a thousand-year-old ancient city
and noble village. But the drama shooting was being done not only
on the designated set but also on every corner of the Park. This
amusement park is set so cultural and in traditional way and
beautifully blend with nature. That is what I really love about Korea,
they praise the nature very high in their life. There were (again) 12
animal Chinese Zodiacs, cute waterfalls, and traditional cafeteria.
Even the rest room is very unique.
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One of the rest rooms in Silla Millennium Park
Then I found a small heaven called Foot Spa! I sat down there for
about 15minutes enjoying the view before finally set off.
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It is time to check in to the hostel I've booked: Nahbi Guesthouse
(closed since July 2014). In choosing a hostel, I usually check its rating
and availability in booking service websites such as hostelworld and
hostelbookers, and also the rating in tripadvisor. When I find a hostel
name, I search their website first to check if the rate written in their
website is cheaper than booking service websites. Mostly there is no
difference in the rate, but booking service websites like hostelworld
required us to pay deposit and their service fee. Like this guesthouse
in Gyeongju, I ended booking it directly through their website
because they did not ask for deposit. My agenda in Gyeongju was
quite flexible so I did not want to lose any money if I canceled it later
As expected, I did change my plan from 3 nights to 2 nights only
when I was already in Gyeongju, after more reading, browsing and
consideration that 2 nights 3 days is enough to explore Gyeongju city.
I booked Nahbi Guesthouse for 3 nights but when I actually checked
in I said I changed to 2 nights only. At that time, staying 2 nights in a 4
beds female dorm room of this guesthouse cost ₩34,000.
I followed the map and guide that I received from their email. The
location was quite strategic in downtown, as you can see from the
map below: 10 minutes walking distance to Express Bus Terminal (for
buses traveling in Express Way to/from other cities), to Intercity Bus
Terminal (for regular buses), to Tombs Park I visited the day before,
and 20 minutes walking distance to train station. It was easy, from
Silla Millenium Park, I just needed to find a bus back to bus terminal,
which was the same bus I took from bus terminal to the temple the
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day before, and from the temple to World Park / Silla Millenium Park
The nearest bus stop was the one located just in front of the building,
but I alighted few stops before, on the bus stop in front of Gyeongju
Train Station, and walked to the hostel while exploring the area.
There were market and some shops on the left side, while mostly
banks on the right side.
It was around 8pm when I finished checking-in the hotel and taking
shower. I went to the hostel main area to discuss with the
receptionist about some places to visit in Gyeongju, and to sit around.
As usual guesthouse, they provided TV, books and some boardgames
in the lobby.
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Based on my experience, Koreans are always nice, easy to make
friends and adapt with strangers. This time I met another guest, a
Korean girl from Seoul, who’s traveling solo too. We went outside
together to buy some snacks and drinks in the nearby supermarket,
and then went back to the hostel playing some board games and
talking. When we went to the supermarket, we passed by a cute
coffee shop with appealing name: Sleepless in Seattle!
Like the usual hostel, this one offered free self-service breakfast.
They provided bread, jams, butter and eggs, plus kitchen utensils like
toaster for breads and pan to cook the eggs. After eating, we should
clean up the dishes by ourselves too. The kitchen and dining area was
full of empty liquor bottles as decoration. Maybe the owner really
liked drinking. Typical Korean.
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I started the next day by visiting Bulguksa, the most famous temple
in Gyeongju. It is a home to two most valued pagodas in Korea:
Dabotap and Seokgatap, and other National Treasures.
I read in the internet that I could take Bus No 10 and 11 to go to
Bulguksa. Fortunately Bus No 10 came not long after I arrived on the
bus stop across my hostel. The journey took about 1 hour which cost
₩1500, passing by most of the other major sights.
The first thing to do when I arrived in Bulguksa was checking the bus
schedule to my next destination, Seokguram. This is important so I
could use my time efficiently for sightseeing more than for waiting
bus. One of the convenient things of traveling in Korea is you can
check bus schedule in almost every bus stop, and the buses come on
Since it is a famous tourist place, there is a Tourist Information
Center (TIC) outside the temple. If you can’t understand the schedule
written on the bus stop, you can just easily ask the staff in TIC. The
bus from Bulguksa to Seokguram is No 12, and it runs every 30
The entrance to Bulguksa Temple is called Seokgyemun. It has 33
steps staircase which resembles 33 steps to enlightenment. It is
divided into two sections; the lower section named Cheong-un-gyo
(the Blue Cloud Bridge), and the upper section named Baek-un-gyo
(White Cloud Bridge).
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Usually a temple only has one pagoda, but Bulguksa is different. It
has 2 pagodas: Seokgatap and Dabotap. Seokgatap is a three-story
traditional Korean style pagoda with simple lines and minimal details
which stands about 8.2meters high. In contrast to Seokgatap,
Dabotap is an octagonal pagoda standing on a square stone
staircases and railing.
The contrast between the simplicity of the Seokgatap and the
complexity of the Dabotap is designed to represent the dual nature
of the Buddha's contemplation. The sophisticated Dabotap
symbolizes the complexity of the world; while the simple Seokgatap
represents the brevity of spiritual ascent (from Fascinating Tales of
Blooming Silla by Alexander Chang and Andrew Chang, 2006). Both
Pagodas stand before the main hall Daeungjeon, the Hall of Great
Enlightenment, where the Buddha enshrines.
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In one part of the garden, I saw many stacks of stones. It was actually
a kind of worship visitors put to ask for good fortunes from Buddha.
Each stone within the stack represents a particular wish or family
member. This is a common practice in South Korean temple.
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From Bulguksa, the bus was going up to Tohamsan Mountain where
Seokguram Grotto laid. It was part of Bulguksa temple complex,
located 4 km east of the temple. Arriving in the parking lot, we had to
walk up again around 500 m to reach the site. But no worries, the
way up there was so green, refreshing and convenient; very safe for
older people and children. There I met a little cute squirrel.
Seokguram Grotto on top of the mountain, 750 m above sea level
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Seokguram Grotto is an artificial stone cave temple made of Granite.
Inside its round shape hall that covered by a hill like a royal tomb, a
Giant Buddha statue seated on a stone with lotus flower design and
carved walls, facing the East Sea (Sea of Japan). The sea can be seen
on a clear day from the grotto. It is said that the Buddha was made to
protect Silla kingdom from Japanese attacks. It is also a favorite
place to view beautiful sunrise over the sea.
The view from the grotto
Beautiful colorful lanterns in the grotto area
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Both Bulguksa and Seokguram were built by Kim Daeseong, a prime
minister of Silla. The legend said that he was reincarnated from the
previous life because of his good acts. Bulguksa was dedicated for his
parents in current life, while Seokguram was dedicated for his
parents in previous life.
Buddha inside Seokguram Grotto (taken from Wikipedia because I as
tourist could not take picture inside the grotto)
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Yangdong Folk Village
At this point, I just realized that we could pay the bus fare using
Seoul t-money, and it was cheaper ₩50 rather than paying cash. I
took bus 12 back to Bulguksa, then changed bus 10 back to
downtown. Each bus cost me ₩1450 using t-money. I stopped at
Intercity Bus Terminal, because my next destination Yangdong
Village could be reached by taking bus from there.
Before going to that village, I took lunch at a traditional restaurant
around the terminal bus area. I had rice with beef soup and a lot of
side dishes. It was good, and it cost ₩7000.
There are few buses going to Yangdong Village, and the journey
takes about 40 minutes which cost ₩1450. After stopping at
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Yangdong Village Bus Stop, we need to walk further by foot for
about 1.2km to the village. Phewww… what a workout in the middle
of hot day!
At that time, there was no entrance fee to this opened and peaceful
village. It is a Korea’s traditional village from Joseon Dynasty. It has
around 160 old houses and buildings with tiled and thatched roofed,
which some of them are still used by local people. This village was
founded by Wolseong Son (of Gyeongju) whose daughter was
married to son of Yeogang Yi (of Yeongju) in the 15th century. Since
then, it has been home for these two high class clans.
The village follows the valleys typography and characteristic of
Joseon Dynasty society. Homes of Wolseong Son and Yeogang Yu
clans are located on the higher ground, while the lower class homes
are built on the lower ground. Some of important materials to see
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are Soebaekdang (primary home of Wolseong Son clan) and
Mucheomdang (primary home of Yeogang Yu clan).
There was no specific map and guide, so I just walked around the
quiet village for about an hour. Be careful to tolerate, respect and
not disturb local people living there when exploring the village.
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From Yangdong Village, I took the same bus to get back to the
Intercity Bus Terminal. It's time to visit interesting places inside the
town. My first stop was National Museum, because it's gonna be
closed at 6pm while some other places were opened until night.
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I reached the museum around 4pm, 2 hours before closing. This is
another good attraction in Gyeongju that required no entrance fee,
yay! The museum exhibits materials related to Silla Kingdom indoor
In the indoor, we can see Silla crowns, belts, earrings, accessories
and other artifacts excavated from royal tombs and Wolji Pond (page
57). In Outdoor Exhibit Area, we can see many sculptures excavated
from royal palaces and temples, such as Divine Bell of King
Seongdeok, the largest bell in Korea and it’s made of bronze.
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This bell was made by instructions of King Gyeongdeok to
commemorate his father King Seongdeok, the 33rd ruler of Silla.
However he died before the bell was finished, and then his sone King
Hyegong continued this bell project. It was originally located at
Bongdeoksa, the guardian temple of King Seongdeok. After the
temple was ruined, it was moved to Yeongmyosa, Gyeongju County
Fortress, the old Gyeongju National Museum, and finally to its
present location in 1975. It is also called Emille Bell, because of a
legend saying that a child was sacrificed to cast the bell whose
echoes of ‘em-ee-leh’ resembles the Silla word for "mommy."
Other than the great bell, there are also some artifacts excavated
from Hwangnyongsa Temple (page 66), and some Buddha stone
The good thing about Gyeongju is the main attractions located to
each other. National Museum, Banwolseong, Cheomseongdae,
Anapji Pond and some other interesting places are within walking
and bicycle distance. It’s really recommended to rent a bike for the
whole day to explore the ancient places around the city.
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Banwolseong (Half Moon Fortress) or Wolseong Palace was the
location of royal palace during Silla Dynasty. It is shaped like crescent
moon and located on top of the hill. Now the ruins of the palace are
just an empty lot with lush forest. There was a sign standing on this
site indicated it was one of the shooting locations of Sageuk Queen
The only remaining structure in Wolseong site, other than small moat,
is Seokbingo, the ancient stone freezer. It was not from Silla period,
but it was built during Joseon Dynasty. It is a warehouse made of
stones and round dome roof to store ice in the winter and use it in
the summer. There are three ventilators on top of the ice storage to
maintain the internal temperature. I do not really understand how
this works, but wow, whoever made this was very genius.
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Cheomseongdae is a star-gazing tower built during Queen Seondeok
rule, to observe the stars for predicting the weather. Remember
Queen Seondeok I mentioned earlier? She was the first female ruler
of Shilla Kingdom that ruled from 632 to 647. Therefore,
Cheomseongdae is considered as the oldest surviving observatory in
It was built in a cylinder shape piled up with 362 stones to make 27
levels, with a square entrance in the middle. Twelve of the layers are
below the window level and 12 are above. It’s said that 362
represents the 362 days in lunar year, 27 represents Queen Seondeok
as the 27th ruler of Shilla Kingdom, and 12 represents the month of
the year. Wow, very well-thought ya! The entrance fee is ₩1000, and
it’s opened until 9 or 10pm in the evening. At night the tower looks
more beautiful with lights surrounding it.
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It was getting dark, but not too dark yet to see Anapji Pond in lights.
So I went around to get myself some foods for dinner. Across the
street of Cheomseongdae, on the way to Anapji Pond, there were
many restaurants and shops. I went to a souvenir shop to buy the
famous Gyeongju Bbang, breads filled with red bean.
I then entered the first restaurant that looks nice, and sat in one of
the empty tables. At that time there were about 10 other customers.
Suddenly one woman, perhaps the owner of the shop, approached
me and asking me in body language which somehow I understood as,
“how many people?” And when she knew I said “one, only me”, she
shook her head while talking in Korean as if saying, “you cannot eat
here”. I could not understand why, and I did not want to argue much.
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That was the disadvantage in not being able to speak Korean. I
patiently went out to find another restaurant.
On the corner of the street, I saw a quiet restaurant and entered it,
hoping that perhaps this quiet restaurant was more subtle and
accepting me. There was no other customer at that time. When a
woman greeted me on the front door, I asked her with English and
body language if it was okay for me to eat there alone. She
welcomed me nicely ☺
Somehow I managed to order the food which was their main dish in
한우떡갈비). It’s grilled
the menu: Hanu Tteokgalbi Jeongsik (
mince beef ribs steak. At first I thought it is the traditional food
originated from Gyeongju, but later I know this is actually from
Gwangju. Anyway, the steak was so good and soft. They also served
me a lot of side dishes (Banchan). This all cost ₩10,000.
Hanu Tteokgalbi Jeongsik, with a lot of Banchan
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Donggung Palace and Anapji Pond
Anapji or also called Wolji Pond is an artificial pond located inside
Donggung (East Palace) area which is part of Silla palace complex,
northeast side of Banwolseong Palace. It was built during King
Munmu reign after unification of the Korean Peninsula. (Remember
the king whose tomb was buried underwater near Bonggil beach?)
The pond has 3 small islands with beautiful trees and flowers. A
number of pavilions, including Imhaejeon, were constructed around
the lake and used for state festivals and banquets and as a prince's
The entrance fee was only ₩1000 at that time. The pond and the
pavilions were really beautiful, especially in the night. For the first
time during this trip I was kinda sentimental and missing my beloved
one so much and wish he was there with me.
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The next morning, I checked out from hostel and went to Namsan
Mountain with all my belongings. Can you imagine? I am amazed now
how strong and practical I was back then: carrying only one backpack
for 3 days traveling and carrying it while hiking a mountain.
I took bus no.500 from the bus stop across the hostel to go to the
entrance of Namsan (san in Korean means mountain, so it is kinda
duplicated to call it Namsan Mountain). It cost ₩1450 using t-money
card. The mountain is located not far from the city, in the South of
Gyeongju. Across the entrance, there was a small shop selling some
snacks, towels and other hiking necessities. I bought some snacks
and a towel with Gyeongju map on it as a souvenir (and as a sweat
Another good thing in Gyeongju: no
entrance fee to hike Namsan. Just
like other mountains in Korea, the
hiking path/way was properly
maintained and designed well to
accommodate the hikers. The special
and unique thing about Namsan
compared to other mountains in
Korea is there are a lot of Buddhist
and Silla temples, shrines and
artifacts throughout the mountain.
They call it an open-air Silla Museum.
Seated Stoned Buddha Statue without Head
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I knew this mountain from my favorite Korean reality show 1 Night 2
Days (1N2D) when they went there in 2 episodes. Other than cultural
heritage, we can enjoy the beautiful scenic landscape in this
At first I tried to read the map to check where I should be going. But
then just after I started my trip up, I made friends with a group of old
people (Ahjumma and Ahjossi) after they asked me to take their
picture. It was very common to see elderly hiking the mountains,
even more than younger people. Maybe that is one of their recipes to
stay strong. In their old age, they were still active and energetic, and
could climb up and down stairs easily.
Me with the Ahjummas
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Anyway, knowing I traveled alone, they invited me to join their group
to go up. Well that would be very nice, so I would not walk inside the
forest alone (even though I knew it was safe). They were also very
excited to talk with foreigners. I followed them and no need to worry
about the map anymore, so I could enjoy the scenery more. We went
up until the nearest peak, around 1 hour hiking. The view there was
The Ahjummas then opened up their picnic foods and drinks that
includes, of course, Makgeolli. Makgeolli is a light sweet alcohol
made from rice or wheat mixed, elderly’s favorite drink. I couldn’t
reject it when they offered me some, because yeah I admit I like it
I told them I wanted to visit all relics showing in 1N2D show, but they
said some of them were located very high and not easy to reach.
They did not recommend me to hike there alone. Well yeah then, I
followed them to climb down back (*easily gave up*). I was already
satisfied going up until that peak and seeing some of the relics. It’s
time to visit another places.
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On the foot of Namsan, there is a historic site called Poseokjong.
Poseokjong was a separate royal palace where the king held
banquets for nobles. The palace itself was gone but the abaloneshaped water canal made of granite remains. It was the canal where
the kings and nobles floated drinking cups and composed poetry.
Honestly I could not imagine the king and nobles sitting surrounding
this small water canal and citing poetry
That’s the only thing to see in this site. It’s amazing how Korean
government really takes care of their historic sites even the tiny ones.
The entrance fee to go in this site was ₩500. It had a very big parking
lot where Namsan hikers usually parked their car.
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About 2 bus stops from Poseokjeong, there is another historic site
called Najeong Well. The weather was good, the roads were green
and comfortable, and I still had the power left after hiking Namsan,
so I walked there by feet from Poseokjeong while enjoying the view.
Layers of rice fields and hills on the way to Najeong Well
According to the legend, the founding father and the first King of
Silla was born here. One day, Sobeol (chief of the village) saw a white
horse on its knees by a well. When he went to the well for a closer
look, the horse suddenly disappeared. But he found a large egg on
the spot where the horse had been. A baby boy came out of the egg.
When he reached the age of 13, 6 village chiefs in the area elected
him to be the first king. They called their country Seorabeol, the
ancient name of Silla.
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Like Poseokjeong, there was nothing much to see here either. It was
a big empty field with grasses that looked neglected. There were 2
boards displaying some pictures of the well near the main gate, and
then deep inside the field there was memorial stone erected near the
well among the pine trees.
From Najeong Well, I took bus no.500 again to downtown before
going to next places. It was easier to start from downtown, either
the Station or Bus Terminal, because almost every bus passed them. I
also could read and pinpoint them on the routes board of the bus
stop (Station = , Terminal =
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From the Station, I took bus no.11 to Bunhwangsa. At that point I
knew bus no.10 and 11 were two famous buses which could take us to
many tourist attraction places. After more than 45 minutes journey, I
started to feel I took a wrong bus because I did not think it was that
far. I then realized the bus passed Bulguksa bus stop!
Apparently the bus no.10 goes through the attraction places in
downtown first before goes to Bulguksa in the outskirt of Gyeongju
city. While the bus no.11 is the opposite, it goes directly to faraway
Bulguksa first before goes to attraction places in downtown. My bus
trip to Bunhwangsa that day took 1 hour. It should be 15 or 20
minutes only, Zzzzz! But the bus fare was the same, ₩1450 using tmoney.
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Bunhwangsa (Fragrant Emperor Temple) is a temple built during
Queen Seondeok reign of the Silla Dynasty. Among the temple
buildings in this complex, the most attractive one is the Mojeon
Seoktap (Mojeon Pagoda). This stone tower is believed to have been
built in 9 stories, but currently it remains only 3 stories after being
destroyed during invasion of Mongolian and Japanese. It has a style
of Tang Dynasty of China, but instead of using bricks, it was built
using black andesite rocks (dark grayish volcanic rocks) that
resemble bricks. There are doors on each side of the tower which are
guarded by two figures called Mighty Diamond Men. When I went
there at that time the tower
was surrounded by colorful
lanterns. Inside this oldest
Buddhist pagoda of Silla,
many precious artifacts like
gold and jewelries were found
and have been excavated.
Other notable relics in this
temple complex are
well where three dragons that
protected Silla were believed
to reside) and Danggan Pillars.
Danggan Pillars are flagpoles
stone that were used to hang
flags during any Buddhist
festivals so that even people
far away would be aware of
them. The pillars are supported by unique stone turtles. The entrance
fee to Bunhwangsa was ₩1300.
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Just next to
there is a
remaining site of
Temple) was once
one of the most
monasteries in East Asia until it was razed by the Mongol invaders of
the 13th Century.
In this site we can only see an open field with some stones remains.
But in the old days, it looked something like this (taken from
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Amazing right? The pagoda was an enourmous 9 story building built
entirely with interlocking woods without any iron nails. The nine
stories represented the nine nations in East Asia and Silla’s destiny to
Nine stories represent nine other nations in East Asia
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The first story in the bottom represents Japan. The second one
represents China. The third one was Wuyue, an old Chinese kingdom.
The forth story was Jeju Island. The fifth one represents Baekje,
which is one of the three kingdoms in Korean Peninsula. The sixth
story was Mohe, an ancient Manchuria Kingdom in Northeast China.
The seventh one represents Khitan, Mongolia and Manchuria people.
The eighth story was Jucen, also Manchuria people. The ninth story
on the top represents Goguryeo Kingdom.
During Silla Kingdom, it was the nation’s largest temple and the
pagoda was the tallest structure in East Asia. The construction was
started during King Jinheung reign. In the beginning, it was intended
to build a new palace. But after a dragon was seen on the site, the
construction was changed into a temple instead, where monks
prayed for the nations and to impress foreigners.
It was designed by Architect Abiji from neighbor kingdom Baekje
which was conquered by Silla Kingdom. About 23 years after
completion of the pagoda, Queen Seondeok unified the Three
Kingdoms (Silla, Baekje and Gogurye); later, numerous scholars
pointed to the pagoda as a contributing factor in the unification.
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Back to Seoul
It was almost 4pm and I was hungry. I skipped lunch today because I
ate many snacks during hiking in Namsan and I was just too lazy to
eat. I went back to bus terminal to buy ticket back to Seoul, and
perhaps would grab some foods in the terminal while waiting for the
bus departure. But when I arrived in the ticket counter, apparently
the next bus was about to depart in 5 minutes and there was still seat
available. I decided to jump in this bus directly, and eat later in Seoul.
As I said in the first chapter, the bus fare was different. Now I got 4seats in a row bus (but fortunately I got 2 seats for my own) and paid
₩19,500. Nonetheless, for me it was as comfortable as the 3-seats in
a row bus I took from Seoul.
Thanks Gyeongju for the last 4 days! I really like all the cultural places
in this city. There are some places I have not gone yet, so I hope I
could visit Gyeongju again next time.
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So, based on my experience, what are the places in Gyeongju I
recommend to visit? It is very easy to answer: all of the places above!
I really like every place I have visited in Gyeongju, so I recommend all
of them. Hmmm maybe except Poseokjeong and Najeong Well,
because nothing much to see there. Climbing Namsan Mountain is
also not really necessary if you do not like hiking and do not like
following 1 Night 2 Days team’s trail like me.
I also recommend renting a bicycle one whole day to explore
interesting sites in the downtown. They are located quite near each
other. If I rented a bike, I would be able to explore a lot more
attractions. See this map below, I missed site no.1, 2 and 3. Hope I
could visit them in my next visit to Gyeongju.